THE BLACKOUT SUMMERS

They were glued together body and soul, that much more with their backs up against the wall. –James Taylor

I still think of you sometimes, I mean I suppose I think of you whenever I see you in the hall or whenever we're walking home from school together, whining about last years English teacher and gossiping about Spence, but I mean other times. When you're not next to me tossing your dyed black hair out of your eyes and looking like you really need to smoke, which I really wish you wouldn't do by the way, I think of you, how you used to be, how you started off. Usually when its hot outside but still too early to turn on the air conditioning so we keep all the windows open and the humidity creeps through the screens and I'm awake late at night because I'm not used to hearing the outside world inside my house, and because I'm afraid that at any second a kidnapper's going to slit the screen and steal me away.

It's you my mind goes to on those nights, you and Spence and the blackout summers. Those summers from when we were born, six months apart, until we were in seventh grade, before the city had our street's electricity fixed, and none of us had air conditioning in our sixty year old houses yet. The electric wires were probably twenty years old, and the wiring in our houses even older, so on summer evenings when every house on the street had window fans plugged into every one of their outlets and TV's running the nightly news, it would be too much for our transformers and all at once every light and microwave on the street would die and with a pop we'd all be plunged into the dusky half-light filtering through our screened windows.

The sudden outages would send everyone scrambling for scented candles and wrenching windows open even farther, for a moment we'd all consider staying where we were, plastering ourselves onto the towels we'd cover our leather couches with so we didn't stick and trying not to sweat to death. The Reichley's however, would not hear of this, it wouldn't be long before the first candle would flame up outside, and Mrs. Reichley's voice would fill the dead summer night with a sort of calmed happiness as she called Spence and Emma out to carry chairs into the front yard. Pretty soon whichever dog they owned at the time, be it Ritz, or Gus, or Mikey would start barking or biting at whoever was around and my mother would send me to peek out the window and see who had arrived.

It was like a beacon, an official opening sign, the chairs, the large tin bucket citronella candles to try in vain to keep the mosquitoes away. My mother, along with yours and every other mother on the street would pack up the Avon Skin So Soft insect repellent, scented like aloe and eucalyptus, the few Miller Lights in the house, and folding chairs and tote all of us kids across the street. The moment I would get within ten feet of the front yard I'd inhale the smell of fake citrus, insect repellent and cigarette smoke, three smells which separately I now despise, but when mixed, will forever make me feel like I'm coming home.

Sometimes you'd be sprawled out on a reclining lounge chair holding Spence's cat, Luther while its sister Phoebe sulked on the ground hoping you'd pet her, even though she was petrified of most humans. Phoebe never even let Emma or Spence within ten feet of her, but if you were in the room she'd come and slink around your legs hoping you'd pick her up, and you would. Your love for animals is one of the few things I've seen that has transcended your school years and it lingers around you, I believe, partially just to make those of us who have always known you smile with the thought that you could never completely change. Other times you'd be with Spence trying to locate batteries in the junk drawer we all stole coins from for the ice cream man, in the small dark kitchen of the Reichley's house.

When I came in you'd both smile at me, Spence and you, and while my eyes adjusted to the dark you'd tell me about your planned escapades for that night. They inevitably always began with running through the woods behind Spence's house, dying flashlights in hand, or without light all together playing some hide and seek game or capture the flag, and ended in lying in his field staring at the stars and daring one another to jump off garages or kiss in the dew dampened grass. Although we had played these games one million times, we never tired of them.

I believe the two of you saw me as part girl and part boy, depending on what suited your taste for the moment. When you needed someone small but brave to climb under the thorn bushes and retrieve our kick ball, or run faster than anyone else around the block in a race, I was a boy. However, if someone needed to play the nurse in your World War Two army games, or explain to you why the girl who sat in front of you in class did not think it was cute that you teased her every single day, I was a girl. And of course as we grew older, that girl was more of a sex object, and the boy more of a team mate.

The adults would sit out front in the folding chairs drinking beer or coke and smoking if they were so inclined, while they discussed which of us had learned to ride our bike, or as we grew up, made honor roll. Eventually when we tired of Emma, who was four years younger than us, we'd send her to sit with them, and she'd curl up in a chair and be lulled to sleep by the steady monotony of adult conversation.

In elementary school, children can be the cruelest judges, and though I was popular, I remember the constant suggestions that we were all very in love, who "we" were seemed to vary, be it you and I, or Spence and me, but no matter what, it was always incredibly false. Though I'd never say you two were like my brothers, because I never got along with Sean well enough for it to be at all similar, you were my best friends, and because I resented the other girls on the street for playing with Barbie's and baby dolls, you were the only thing I knew.

Eventually, when we'd tried ourselves into a stupor running about the woods scraping up my knees so badly that to this day they're discolored, and were bored with perching on the broken picnic table just out of the chain that restrained Gus's reach, we'd wander into Spence's house, which the night air would have cooled to an almost tolerable temperature. We'd fling ourselves onto the couches and chairs and promptly fall asleep in giant heaps, only to be shoveled off of them the next morning to watch cartoons, a great luxury for me, as I grew up without cable, and eat captain crunch, another treat as I wasn't allowed sugary cereals either. I'd eat mine out of the box with my fingers since I couldn't have milk like you two, being lactose intolerant. For dessert because all children should have desserts with their breakfasts, we'd eat Oreos from the big cookie jar on the sink. When Mr. and Mrs. Reichley left for work and Emily came to baby-sit she'd kick us out of the house all day, not even letting us back in for lunch, she'd serve us Ramen Noodles and macaroni and cheese on the front steps. We'd play four square and jackpot in the street because it was a dead end so only the ice cream man ever came down it, and when he did we'd all buy some sort of frozen confection and lick it in the front yard.

I was never able to finish my cherry Popsicle and I'd let you have the last of it, which always infuriated Spence, but I'd tell him you were the biggest, so you needed it more. I'm not sure even now, what it was that made me prefer you to Spence, or anyone else for that matter. You really were the biggest of us, tallest, oldest, and solidly covered in muscle mass even when we were little, but I suppose it's not hard to be larger than Spence or I. We were, and still are, thin and long and gangly, with our pale skin and freckles, people used to believe we were brother and sister, even though he had bright red hair and green eyes and I've always been a blue eyed brunette. Perhaps it was that he was too small to defend me, and even though I've never needed it, I've always known you could, and would, beat up anyone who hurt me. I suppose, thinking of it, I have needed it from time to time, but I'd never actually ask you too.

Since you were the oldest, you learned certain things first; you could tie my shoes for me when I didn't know how, and fasten Emma's overall straps when the rest of us hadn't the hand-eye coordination. And even though when we reached middle school, it was Spence who accompanied me into honors classes, I've always considered you bright. You seemed to understand things about the world Spence didn't, like that you can't always have exactly what you want, your parents don't always tell you the whole truth, and it is really ok to cry if a bee stings you, even if you are the strongest, toughest boy in the school. You cried when we went to first grade, and even though I was never sure why you did, I never looked down on you for it.

When Mrs. Reichley would come home from work she'd allow us in the house again, and we'd commence the search for the cats, though you'd always find them first, and play with Spence's action figures, or later as we grew up, I'd watch you two play video games, and I'd wear your Pink Floyd tour tee shirts, which I now sleep in.

I remember other times, in winter we'd ride down the tiny bump in my front yard on our disc sleds and build snow forts, and in fall we'd rake leaves. You walked me home from our elementary school at the end of the street. When I was home alone, even years later, and frightened, I'd run to Spence's house and hide out in the basement with you two, even if it was nearly midnight. Of course, I still do that from time to time. But mostly what I remember are summers, the smell of Spence's bon fire mingling with cigarette smoke, and the rush of the summer air running through the field.

Maybe we've grown apart now; school has a way of doing that to kids, especially boys and girls. Its incredible how quickly things can change, isn't it? You fashion yourselves to be little rebels, and I'm still taking all honors, you rip up your jeans before you'll wear them, and I try to avoid wearing jeans all together, but you laugh at me and tell me I look much nicer than any of those punk girls you associate with when we talk. You still walk me home from school even though I'm sure you could get a ride instead of taking the buss with me, and you still want to approve of every boy I see.

Every once in a while in summer because you two still don't have air conditioning, Mrs. Reichley sets up chairs in the front yard and my mother digs through our refrigerator to see if we have any beer to bring because no one drinks in our house and we all slowly filter out of our houses to their front yard. Now though, Spence always has whatever girl he's currently seeing over, and you and I, more often single than not, I reason mostly because we don't take every opportunity that comes along like he does, force niceties with her, no matter how air headed she may be. Of course, now the city has fixed our electricity and instead of sitting in the field we sit in Spence's basement so you two can play video games while I make small talk with Spence's girl friend and we exchange knowing glances whenever she says something unintelligent. And when you give up because you never really did like video games that much we sit on the piano bench and experiment with the keys even though you're a drummer and I have no musical ability whatsoever. You question me about whichever boy I'm seeing or being pursued by at the time and I do my best to leave your vapid love life out of it, because neither of our suitors will ever live up to the others expectations. Eventually we end up discussing the meaning of life and what we believe will happen when we die, as I'm a fervent catholic and you have a tendency to waiver somewhere between Christianity and Buddhism. These times are fun, but they simply are not the same. It gets too messy and complicated and school gets too stressful, and sometimes I wish for the time when the depth of our conversation was what flavor of sherbet we preferred and which language we wanted to take in high school.

Sometimes in June or July on my way out to the car to go to rehearsal or a party, I smell charcoal grills and fire and the rental house next door's cigarette smoke, or one of their children laughs and bounces one of those red kickball's and I think of you. Through the fences I can see your backyard and your bedroom window and wonder how long it's been since I sat on your bed flipping through books about dinosaurs. Someone lights a sparkler or a citronella candle and the spark of the flame reminds me of lighting candles to keep out the darkness in during those long blackout summers. I've always been afraid of the dark, and yet, the point I most looked forward to about summer, was being out in the warm darkness with the two of you, my very first life long best friends.